Getting out of the 'Hamsterrad'

Right before the pandemic hit full speed in Europe, I attended a team-building workshop where we not only tried to understand each other better as colleagues, but we discussed the overall strategy and direction of our department as a whole going forward. One of the difficulties we identified to be able to progress together and refresh ourselves creatively was that many of us found ourselves in a Hamsterrad (hamster wheel). 

Being in the Hamsterrad essentially means that you are so tied up and busy with everyday tasks, that you have no time to think about bigger, more dynamic projects that can help the department and company grow. But this doesn’t only have to apply to your work life; it can also happen in your personal life. You can eventually feel like you’re sinking with little way out and the trick can be recognizing that this is happening and having the strength to pull yourself up and change your situation. 

I’d like to share with you some things that have helped me stay grounded and pull myself out of the Hamsterrad. They may not work for everyone, but maybe it will inspire you to think about what helps you gain a feeling of control when you feel like things are starting to spin a little too fast.

Prioritize

One thing you can apply – if you’re an organized person or someone who needs clear boundaries – is the Eisenhower Matrix. It essentially tells you to give top priority to tasks that are urgent and important, and eliminate (or put them on ice for an undetermined period) tasks that are neither urgent nor important. Tasks in between can be planned or be accomplished by asking for support. This is not only a great tool to organize your tasks at work, but also in your life.

In my opinion, I would say prioritizing your physical and mental health is of utmost importance. Things like getting enough sleep or making that doctor’s appointment you’ve been putting off should be at the top of the list. If these aren’t taken care of, you could be headed for a burnout faster than you realize. Regarding taking care of your mental health, this looks different for everyone. Maybe you’re constantly on the go and need to schedule ‘me’ time where you can unplug and decompress, or maybe it’s the opposite and you need to schedule some social time with friends to recharge. Once you’ve taken a moment to ask yourself what you need, the way forward becomes more clear.

Tip: If you’re not already using your phone calendar or another sort of calendar, plan what you need to do for that week or that month. Then, if there are open slots, you can be flexible to making plans with friends or other activities without worrying that you’re overbooking your physical/mental boundaries.

Embrace the power of ‘no’

Or if you’re Gen Z, no❤️

Trust me, I know how hard this one can be, especially for women. And of course we shouldn’t overgeneralize – people exist over a spectrum, but I think there is a lot of truth to the expression, Women often play to get along, men often play to win.

We have to be able to recognize our boundaries, set them, and stick to them. For example, at my job, my colleague and I recently restructured our work responsibilities slightly and are no longer doing a task that many people in the company were accustomed to us doing. We communicated that we are no longer doing it, along with an explanation and a suitable alternative. Still, we get messages from colleagues asking us to do said task, and we have to double-down and say that we no longer have the capacity. Sometimes we even have to grab our supervisor for extra support. But this is important so we can do our jobs more effectively and with less stress. It’s hard telling them ‘no’, especially because there’s sometimes an underlying thought of ‘Are they still going to like me or respect me?’ If they are reasonable people, of course they should still respect you! And if they don’t, then that’s their issue and it has nothing to do with you and maybe they were expecting too much of you in the first place.

It can also be hard to say no to friends who want to invite you to something, but know your limits. If you’re tired, it’s ok to skip out on that dinner or night out. They will understand.

Tip: (Honestly this should just be universally understood, but I’ll say it here anyway.) If you feel like you need to skip out on plans with a friend, immediately follow up and suggest an alternative date, time, or activity when you think things will be less hectic for you. Or if you’re not sure when that will be, just say so directly and honestly. Directness and honesty will get you a long way, especially in Germany.

Rearrange/optimize your surroundings

Have you been putting off taking out those old clothes you want to donate? Are dishes piling in the sink because you don’t have the time or energy to wash them? I get it, a lot of times we just don’t have the energy or willpower to do these things, and it’s ok if you leave them for a few days, or hell, even a week (not if the fruit flies are multiplying though). We all need some time to decompress and gather our thoughts. However, I think having tidy surroundings is more calming.

Adding to that, why not make your surroundings more colorful or generally more enjoyable? If you have the financial means, buy that art piece you’ve had your eye on for months or that beautiful plant you saw at the garden store. This is not to say that consumerism is the answer, because it definitely isn’t and is only a short-term boost, but I think life is a little bit like the Sims.

Ok, non sequitur. Let me explain a little bit.

When playing the Sims, the characters are always in a better mood and more receptive when they have nice surroundings. When their house is filled with low-quality furniture or the trash is piling up, they can get into a terrible mood and it’s impossible to make them do anything you want. I think the creators were inspired by real life on that one…

Acknowledge your wins

Perhaps the most important point of these all is that you should acknowledge your wins. This not only applies to when you are stuck in the Hamsterrad, but is a great general mindset to have. Many of us conditioned to downplay our successes for fear of sounding conceited or arrogant, but it doesn’t come off that way if you do it right.

If someone compliments you on something you’ve done, instead of replying with “I got lucky” or “I had A LOT of help”, just own it!! Say thank you and give yourself a round of applause.. Of course you can still acknowledge friends or colleagues who helped you get where you are, but you were still the captain of that ship. Even the Harvard Business Review says acknowledging your achievements is a form of self-care!

Even if you have simply made it through the day and accomplished the ‘simple’ day-to-day tasks, that’s a win my friends. Anything else you’ve accomplished beyond that is a huge success and you should acknowledge it as such. Think about the things you’re proud of having done in the last week, month, year. If you’re someone who plans out their week or month in advance, just tack on an extra few minutes to that task to reflect on the past week or month. This is something I’m trying hard to work on myself!!

What did you think about these ways of pulling yourself off the Hamsterrad and moving forward (while sometimes looking back)? Do you agree? 

Is there anything you would personally do differently?  do you suddenly feel like. i’m yelling at you since this is in all caps?

Leave a comment or shoot me a message! I would love to hear it!

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